What's in the news right now about environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable beef value chain.


Executive Director's Message

The biggest news over the past two weeks has been the release of the "EAT Lancet" report, "food in the anthropocene," which I have already mentioned several times in newsletters, so I will not be adding much to what I have already said.

I have created a web page that I will update as more news coverage comes out on the subject. You will need your membership login details to access that page on the site, so if you have mislaid them please request a new password. Feel free to send any more reactions you think add to the discussion.

On balance, I think the statement from Beef and Lamb New Zealand finds a balance between stating that there is a need for discussion and making it clear that red meat is an important part of healthy diets and can be produced sustainably. GRSB and our members should be promoting the value of the work we do to increase the sustainability of the beef value chain.

This week, another Lancet Commission report is being released, this time entitled: "The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition and Climate Change". While they are not saying anything different than the EAT report about the nature of current consumption and health patterns, this time they are connecting these to the power of large companies to influence policy through lobbying and are calling for the creation of a Framework Convention on Food, similar to those for Tobacco and Climate Change.

This convention would would explicitly exclude the food industry from policy development. "Such a commitment would recognise the fundamental and irreconcilable conflict that exists between some food and drinks industries' interests and those of public health and the environment; that all parties must be transparent and accountable when dealing with industry or working to further their interests; and that no fiscal advantages or inducements to produce food and beverage products that damage human and environmental health should exist."

A number of influential writers have added comments to preface the report including José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the FAO. Da Silva writes that the report concurs in some areas with FAO's "State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World" report of 2018. He also comments that food systems are leading to increased consumption of industrialised and processed foods that are high in trans fats, sugar, salt and chemical additives, as well as high calorie foods that are low in nutrients.

He does not mention red meat at all, logically, because the properties that he did refer to are not properties of red meat. However, the report itself does make extensive references to negative impacts to climate and health from red meat "reducing (red meat) consumption is a cornerstone for healthy sustainable diets, but achieving this will be formidable given the current supply and demand dynamics." It is worth quoting at length their claims against red meat as a syndemic driver:

"Although animals are an integral part of many well–functioning agroecological systems and permanent pastures on which animals graze can be important carbon sinks, livestock production is a major contributor to climate change (19% of all greenhouse gases). The greenhouse gases are related to methane emissions from enteric fermentation, nitrous oxide emissions from manure and fertiliser application, and the considerable inputs required to grow cereal and oilseed crops for use as livestock feed in industrial livestock farming. Livestock also use approximately 70% of global agricultural land and are a prime driver of deforestation. Intensive production systems also contribute substantially to localised pollution through effluents and air pollution.

"The links between excess meat consumption and obesity and related NCDs are also well known. Excess meat consumption can contribute to obesity. Red meat consumption (particularly processed meat) is associated with increased risk of NCDs including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Animal–source foods, including meat, provide a rich source of highly bioavailable micronutrients, especially for young children, and make an important contribution to high quality diets when consumed in moderation.

"In many regions, livestock production is also an important contributor to livelihoods, household income, and national wealth, and in semi–arid and arid areas there are often few other productive land uses. However, production of feed for livestock can divert food away from direct human consumption, and threaten food security and the livelihoods of populations displaced by the expansion of crop land for feed production, which is also an important cause of deforestation."

They state "Reducing red meat consumption through taxes, redirected subsidies, health and environmental labelling, and social marketing would lead to healthier diets for cancer and obesity prevention, more land for efficient, sustainable agriculture, providing opportunities to reduce undernutrition, and lower GHG emissions from agriculture. Furthermore, the costs of products such as red meat and petrol should reflect the costs of their damages to the environment."

While we support the notion of prioritising sustainability in policy development, there seem to be at least two foregone conclusions that need to be challenged. Firstly, they have concluded that red meat production is environmentally unsustainable regardless of the system of production, and secondly they have drawn some rather tenuous health conclusions on the basis of epidemiological data. Neither of these claims are well founded or should be used as the basis for policy decisions.

These discussions are going to continue and intensify. They represent a new level of opposition to red meat that is trying to influence policy, and will lead to industry having to demonstrate how we are reducing our impact in all GRSBs principle areas. Ultimately this should strengthen GRSB and the sustainability movement.

Ruaraidh Petre
Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef
Executive Director

Emissions, Averages and Improvement
Ruaraidh Petre, LinkedIn | January 27. 2019
Greenhouse gas emissions from food production are increasingly in the news as one of the issues that we have to address to limit the impact on climate. No food product is under more scrutiny than red meat, the production of which occupies the majority of the land we use for food.

Red Meat is a catch all term that refers to meat from both pigs and from ruminants, including cattle, buffalo, sheep and goats. In global terms pig meat makes up the largest proportion of red meat consumption. Poultry (white meat) is the next most consumed type of meat and the fastest growing.

Put Sustainability in Perspective
John Maday, Drovers | January 23, 2019
A new study, recently published in the journal Agricultural Systems, is the most comprehensive beef cattle life–cycle assessment (LCA) ever completed, and tells a much different story. The report, titled "Environmental Footprints of Beef Cattle Production in the United States," authored by researchers from USDA, NCBA and the University of Arkansas, indicates that beef production, including the production of animal feed, is responsible for only 3.3% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. And, by improving production efficiencies, U.S. beef producers have avoided 2.3 gigatons of carbon emissions since 1975.
6 Insights for NGOs to Transform Corporate Sustainability
Bob Langert, Green Biz | January 21, 2019
Jason Clay from WWF made a great impact on sustainable beef. He absolutely won over all the McDonald's global beef leaders because he knew cattle better than they did.

Then he convinced the biggest beef company in the world on the concept, too: JBS. Before meeting Jason, Cameron Bruett of beef supplier JBS said, "Who gave these guys (WWF) the badge to police our centuries–old industry, which has been feeding people around the world all this time? Why are they coming in and saying we're destroying the planet?"

Upon meeting Jason, Cameron was a convert, saying, "We saw WWF and Jason as an entity that wanted to partner with the people who were in the industry to identify solutions."

Tyson Feed Sustainability Efforts Progress, But Some Questions Remain
Aerin Einstein–Curtis, Feed Navigator | January 21, 2019
A new partnership and data collection efforts are among the details Tyson is sharing about the steps it is taking to address production practices for the feed ingredients it uses. Tyson Foods, Inc. announced Tuesday [January 15] that the company will be working with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to establish and start the initiatives involved with Tyson's sustainability strategy.

Working with EDF on the project helps validate the work being done and adds "third–party insight and credibility,"​ a spokesperson with Tyson said.

"Joining forces with EDF enables us to bring together the best of our joint expertise in supply chains and sustainable agriculture while delivering value to growers, businesses and the environment,"​ she told us.

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Big Food Takes Soil Health Seriously
Bill Spiegel, Successful Farming | January 23, 2019
Any one of the 6.5 million persons who visits a McDonald's restaurant each day is likely more concerned with Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets than soil health.

"I'm almost positive that no single customer has ever come into a McDonald's and asked, 'What's going on with soil health?' " says Townsend Bailey, director of sustainability at the world's largest restaurant company.

But make no mistake – McDonald's customers care about sustainability, of which soil health is a key component. "Soil health" and "sustainability" may just sound like the latest fads that food companies can use to peddle more products. But McDonald's joins a host of other big food companies – Cargill, ADM, General Mills and others – that take these terms seriously.

Alberta Ranchers Fear New Food Guide Will Curb Canadians' Appetite for Beef
Lucie Edwardson, CBC News | January 22, 2019
Alberta Beef Producers says it's worried Canada's new food guide will steer people away from red meats.

The new food guide no longer puts an emphasis on food groups or recommended servings. Instead, Health Canada now recommends eating "plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods." It also says to "choose protein foods that come from plants more often."

It's that distinction between plant and meat proteins that has Alberta's ranchers worried.

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'I Can't Afford The Luxury Of Doing The Right Thing': Prairie Farmers On The Front Lines Of Climate Change
Amanda Stephenson, Calgary Herald | January 18, 2019
Cherie Copithorne–Barnes, a fourth–generation rancher outside of Calgary, gets frustrated when she sees headlines urging people to save the Earth by eating less meat.

"We're not denying the fact that cattle belch, and that pure methane is, in fact, coming out," Copithorne–Barnes said. "But what we are saying is we're not the main and principal culprit here. We're just an easy one to single out because we're a relatively small industry. It's the fear–mongering that I'm concerned about."

It's not just public perception that worries Copithorne–Barnes, former chair of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Like many agricultural producers, she fears climate–related government policy changes, such as the carbon taxes mandated by several provinces as well as the Canadian federal government, will put her at a competitive disadvantage with farmers in other countries.

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